Posted Aug 7, 2013 11:07 AM
Editor's note: This is the first in a series on first-time head coaches in the NBA for the 2013-14 season. Tomorrow: Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns.
Michael Malone has been preparing his entire life for this job. Literally, in one sense or another, his entire life. He was born into a coaching family in 1971. His father, Brendan, was head coach at Power Memorial in New York in the post-Lew Alcindor years and was a common face on college and NBA benches through Michael's own ascension to sideline prominence. So the younger Malone is already a lifer, at 43. He's a natural.
But this job has come about anything but naturally.
Maybe Michael would have become head coach of the Sacramento Kings in the summer of 2013 anyway. Maybe his stellar reputation after 12 years as an NBA assistant would have won over Owner X in the ever-spinning world of professional basketball in Sacramento no matter what. But for it to actually happen, for Malone to get his shot at bringing stability to the Sleep Train Arena sideline for the first time since Rick Adelman was fired in 2006, took tangled circumstances crossing through several franchises, two ownership changes and one apprentice job he usually never would have had.
Malone had been a head-coaching candidate for several years. He was one of the rising stars of the business when, as a New Orleans assistant, the Warriors interviewed him in 2011. Mark Jackson got hired, but Golden State was so impressed that it paid big to convince Malone to become an assistant to Jackson, an uncommon arrangement of one finalist working for another. It was especially uncommon because Malone chose the job over a similar role with the Lakers, an opportunity that would have provided a much higher profile. It also would have reunited Malone with his former Cavaliers boss, Mike Brown.
Instead, Malone went to Oakland, where he got to know minority owner Vivek Ranadive. The Warriors turned into a great success. The Lakers, um, did not. The Kings were sold. Ranadive was a major investor and, as general partner, had the lead on decisions.\
His first major basketball move, before choosing a general manager, was to hire Malone.
"Now, I'm not a person who shoots from the hip or makes quick decisions," Ranadive said. "I'm a deliberate thinker. But this was not a case where I was 90 or 99 percent sure that I had the best person. I was a hundred percent sure I had the absolute best person."
There are many who would make similar boasts about Malone's readiness, intelligence, work ethic and organization, and Warriors general manager Bob Myers underlines the coach's competitive side. Malone is stepping into a tough spot -- the coach of a perennial loser, hired by someone other than the general manager, with best player DeMarcus Cousins yet to prove dependable. But his strengths are impressive.
Especially that experience. For most others, saying they have been preparing for this their whole life is a cliché. For Malone, it's hard fact.
"I think it's been an advantage for me my whole life, even when I was a player," he said. "You're a coach's son. You have a leg up sometimes because things that come second nature to you may not for the other guy. But at the end of the day, it's on me. My father, I've been his apprentice and I've learned from him as much as I could. Now he's on my staff and he'll be a great sounding board and I'll be able to draw from his experiences. But experience is the best teacher, and I'm looking forward to it.
"My earliest memories are in a gym with a ball bouncing. Power Memorial High School in New York City. Different camps. I used to go with my father from gym to gym, recruiting players, the best players in New York City. Pearl Washington. Mark Jackson. Kenny Smith. I probably didn't know it at the time, but I was preparing for this moment. All those things that I've been able to go through and learn from have helped lead me to this moment. It's one that I cherish."
It took three college stops, followed by NBA work with the Knicks, Cavaliers, Hornets and Warriors, to get here. It took watching the attempt to recruit Jackson to Syracuse and then working for Jackson in Golden State. It took following his father to hiring him as an assistant here in Sacramento.
For Michael Malone it took, really, his whole life.
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